Keeping a Safe App Environment for Tweens

My tween daughter just bought a tablet.

She found one at a thrift store for $25. The kid knows the Web, from school assignments and by following her sisters. She set up online accounts and downloaded apps as soon as she arrived home. She sends me texts on an iPhone through Pinger, a cross-platform texting app.

Tweens, ages 8-to-12, can access apps and websites older siblings and parents can. Can kids that age navigate these potentially mature app landscapes?

Tweens game, chat or otherwise share online. They’re subject to risks inappropriate to their age group. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children operates the website NetSmartz Workshop. It’s a forum for kids, parents, educators and law enforcement.

It identifies four risks tweens should avoid online:

CYBERBULLYING | Users can anonymously send and share hateful messages to users. [See the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s KnowBullying app]

POSTING INAPPROPRIATE PICTURES | Tweens often don’t understand the permanence of images posted, even if they’re deleted. Plus, apps can contain GPS elements that can reveal a child’s location.

TALKING TO PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW | A San Diego District Attorney report says 60% of U.S. teens have received a message from a stranger.

VISITING ADULT SITES | Kids can access adult sites or games and apps with violent content and images. Tweens’ curiosity can lead them to unsavory places.

How can parents help their tweens navigate safely? By understanding the apps they use, and the pitfalls some present to kid their age.


Popular Apps for Tweens – and What Parents Should Know About Them


Texting Apps


It’s a smartphone messaging app that includes audio, group messaging, texts and images. It’s for users 16 or older with a valid mobile number.

What’s the risk? Anyone with access to the phone could send or view messages. Users can share location and contacts with other users, including strangers.

Check it: There’s no password; parents can check use with the device’s passcode. You can recover deleted messages.


Other texting apps





Micro-Blogging Apps and Sites


It allows users to edit, share and tag photos and videos with contacts and to social media platforms.

What’s the risk? Without privacy settings enabled, any user can add your tween as a contact. It’s important for kids to know the difference between private and public sharing. It’s for ages 13 and older.

Check it: Keep in mind switching settings to private will apply only to contacts added after the fact. You can tag a user in a photo without being a contact. It’s best to follow their account as a user.


Self-Destructing/Secret Apps


It sends drawings, photos, text, videos to contacts. Compile a Snapchat Story: a 24-hour collection of images and videos to share with contacts or the general public.

What’s the risk? The ephemeral nature of snaps. Images self-destruct in 1 to 10 seconds – However, users can screen-shot an image and keep it.

Check it: Spyware works. Software runs around $40, and monitors messages, calls and contacts. Some software allows parents to trace data flow, including snaps, sent and received. Without a visible icon on the device, it can go undetected.


Other self-destructing/secret apps





Chat, date and meet


It matches people to each other based on physical attraction. If two users pick each other, they’re granted chat privileges. Specify preferences for gender, age and other details.

What’s the risk? Tinder’s designed for older teens and adults, not tweens. Users 13-17 cannot connect with older users.  Tinder determines age by the user’s Facebook profile. A user 17 or younger could lie on their Facebook profile to gain total access on Tinder.

Check it: Geo-locating on this app connects users. The Children’s Online Protection Act prohibits older users from contacting minors.


Other chat, date and meet apps